If you met me today, you might think that I am the “girl next door” type. You might think I grew up in a loving home and that my parents raised me to be that cute, personable, successful woman you see in the photo. You might assume I have an education from a school like Vanderbilt or that I pledged in a sorority. Heck, you might think I have a picture-perfect marriage and angels for children. Well let me tell you, this “girl next door” persona I exude couldn’t be further from the truth. One of my closest friend’s says, “Jennifer, you are a good ol’ redneck and you hide it really well.” And I have to agree with her.
I grew up in Memphis (the dodgy parts) and rural Mississippi. My family was poor and a college education was unheard of, if not impossible. We didn’t have friends and we weren’t part of any church community. I never took a piano lesson, dance class, or played a sport. Our goal was to make ends meet. I remember having to put plastic over the windows in the winter because our house was poorly heated. I became the master of a fried spam sandwich (don’t knock it ‘til you try it). You could still consider me the “girl next door”, just further down the block because growing up poor isn’t necessarily a tragedy. But there were things happening in my home that caused years of shameful silence. Sexual and physical abuse, alcoholism, cocaine addiction, affairs, attempted suicide, paranoia, and threats of murder were the sinister secrets that filled my childhood.
As a result, I found effective ways to cover up my shameful past. I did it for years and I did a pretty good job. I dressed well, communicated effectively, made good grades in school, performed well in jobs, lived in a nice house, drove a nice car, and had two well-behaved, talented kids. But nothing I have done or could ever do will change the haunting truth of my past. My tireless efforts to seem like “the girl next door” never took away the feelings of shame, fear, and loneliness I became accustomed to in my childhood. As long as I kept my story hidden and denied the depth of my wounds, I was overtly and covertly living a lie.
The truth is, there is no girl next door. No one is immune to trauma, big or small (more to come on that subject). The wealthy, well-educated, and successful are just as susceptible as the little girl who put plastic over her windows in the cold of rural Mississippi. When trauma is left untreated, the wound can’t heal properly. Let me tell you what I know to be truth: every single person lives with some type of inner brokenness. We become pro’s at hiding our messiness and hope that we can fool people into believing we are okay. But, none of us have it all together. None of us.
So here marks the beginning of The Girl Next Door blog: a place to share my stories and bits of wisdom I’m learning in this mysterious process we call life. I hope it inspires others to break free from the bondage of pretending to be the girl next door. I hope it gives you courage to dig deep into your past and share those traumatic experiences that have been lurking undercover for years. I hope it shatters your view of who you are “supposed” to be and allows you to be the you God created: to live a life in freedom knowing that there is no girl next door, and that’s OK.